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Thu July 2, 2009
Fenner sex sting could cause legal trouble for Lansing
By Rob South, WKAR News
LANSING, MI – A Lansing City Council Committee Wednesday raised legal and ethical concerns about a gay sex sting operation conducted by Lansing Police in May. The sting at Fenner Nature Center netted two arrests. But a breakdown in communication between the offices of the City Attorney and the County Prosecutor could mean legal trouble for the city.
AUDIO: The City Council's committee on public safety heard from Lansing's chief of Police Mark Alley, city attorney Brigham Smith and several gay support groups about the arrests.
Penny Gardner is president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights. She told city officials that a police email directing officers to conduct the sting sounded homophobic and implied the operation was entrapment.
Chief Alley denies the operation was entrapment and says his officers operated in good faith.
But it was the handling of a Freedom of Information Act request that could cause legal problems for the city. The request was initially denied. Information surrounding the sting, including two arrest reports was only made public Tuesday night. Attorney Brigham Smith says he was withholding the information pending charges of the two men who were arrested. He changed his mind only after discovering the men had already pleaded guilty to charges brought by the county prosecutor.
Councilmember Eric Hewitt sits on the Public Safety Committee and says he's concerned about the lack of coordination between the city attorney's office and the county prosecutor. He says it would have been considered double jeopardy had the city attorney brought charges against the men.
The information released by the city also revealed that one of the men arrested is HIV positive. Releasing medical information to the public is illegal under the Health Information Privacy Act. Attorney Smith says police records aren't covered under HIPA. The State of Michigan's Public Health Code, Act 386, also prohibits the release of medical information, including HIV status. Lansing City Attorney Brigham Smith commented Wednesday that he believes the police report was "ambiguous" as to the HIV status of the man arrested.